At least they actually made Firefly
December 14, 2010 1:29 AM   Subscribe

13 awesome and awful pilots for sci-fi series we never got to see.
posted by cthuljew (63 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
HEAT VISION AND JACK (1999)

Notable cast members: Jack Black, Owen Wilson, Ron Silver

Directed by Ben Stiller.



It had to be a really weak screenplay if that crew couldn't make something of it.
posted by three blind mice at 1:52 AM on December 14, 2010


Heat Vision and Jack is one of the few perfect things in this world.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:52 AM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


It had to be a really weak screenplay if that crew couldn't make something of it.

More like a really weak-minded group of FOX suits who took a pass on a really fun premise and well-executed pilot. HV&J had the same parodic relationship to Knight Rider (and other high-concept 70s/80s TV adventure shows) as the Venture Bros. has to Jonny Quest and Marvel Comics. You can easily view the pilot online, so don't take my word for it. Here's the opening sequence.
posted by Strange Interlude at 2:07 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fox declined to pick up this update of the 1966 Irwin Allen series [Time Tunnel], in favor of Firefly. For that, we should all be thankful.

I don't know about that. I watched that bloody Firefly series based on what I thought was a pretty reliable opinion (I think I even read it here, though now I can't remember who or what convinced me) but it was just another cheesy TV western series. (But in space! So it's special! Space cheese!)

So I might rather have had the alternative history in which the Time Tunnel alternative histories existed.
posted by pracowity at 2:17 AM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


the poor quality of the linked youtube videos makes me wonder if our tv's really were that blurry and emitted this hissing ground noise. on the one hand it really could be just that they're captures from old vhs tapes that have been poorly digitized but then again I do remember watching wimbledon during the boris becker days and thinking I can't see the damn ball.

ah, nostalgia.
posted by krautland at 2:25 AM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was debating posting this, and then I watched the Global Frequency video. I would watch the shit out of that show. Heck, I downloaded the pilot already, and I guess that's as good as it's gonna get.
posted by cthuljew at 2:29 AM on December 14, 2010


You can easily view the pilot online, so don't take my word for it.

Thanks Strange Interlude. That definitely had potential, but was maybe too pricey considering the people involved?
posted by three blind mice at 2:31 AM on December 14, 2010


ah, nostalgia.

Sometimes I think that, then I think of the days when they showed old monster movies instead of "paid advertisements" for weiner pills on late night TV, and I remember we didn't have to pay for our TV to look crummy. And then, yes, I get genuinely nostalgic.



Heat Vision and Jack is not bad. Very much a Ben Stiller joint, if you're into that.
posted by louche mustachio at 2:32 AM on December 14, 2010


RED DWARF USA



what
posted by louche mustachio at 2:38 AM on December 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


Oh good Lord do not watch RED DWARF USA unless you like really over the top inappropriate laugh tracks and things that are terrible.
posted by louche mustachio at 2:49 AM on December 14, 2010


After watching the Global Frequency video not long after it was leaked, I picked up the first volume of the comic and found that the scrapped TV pilot was better than the thing it was based on. Alas.

The list could have used some more fleshing out. For instance, the Eastwick entry - a tiny paragraph with a one-sentence plot summary and the fact that the story did in fact eventually get picked up. So is it awesome or awful? Why is it even on the list?
posted by Gordafarin at 2:56 AM on December 14, 2010


Heat Vision and Jack is one of the few perfect things in this world.

It's a firm rule of mine that no show with a talking motor vehicle can't be improved by less talking motor vehicle. I mean, really.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:56 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, man, Global Frequency. I love that comic hard, and the pilot's been sitting on my hard drive for over a year, but I only got around to watching it last week. Fucking. Awesome.

I would fight ten secret government cyborg abominations by myself to get that show picked up by a network.
posted by maqsarian at 2:57 AM on December 14, 2010


"Never got to see"? the Justice League pilot aired on Cinemax in Southeast Asia, part of a never-ending lineup of bargain-basement filler crap scraped from the Hollywood refuse bins and given a second life on basic cable in the boondocks. I knew it was crap the moment I saw David Ogden Stiers in green makeup as the Martian Manhunter.
posted by micketymoc at 2:58 AM on December 14, 2010


The original British version of Ultraviolet was made by Channel 4, not the BBC, contra the article. And it was really good - 4oD has the full series of 6 episodes.
posted by Electric Dragon at 3:01 AM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's a firm rule of mine that no show with a talking motor vehicle can't be improved by less talking motor vehicle. I mean, really.

You're just like those naysayers who got in the way of "The Tomorrow Show With Tom Snyder Dressed As A Steam Engine" and "The West Wing In A Universe Where Everyone Is A Banana Bike."
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:07 AM on December 14, 2010 [10 favorites]


If I recall correctly, the funniest thing about HV&J was the Ben Stiller intro. As it happens, I have the pilot on a DVD around here somewhere so I may have to give it another viewing to confirm.
posted by JaredSeth at 3:33 AM on December 14, 2010


does the Elvira show count as sci-fi?
posted by sexyrobot at 3:50 AM on December 14, 2010


Oh good Lord do not watch RED DWARF USA unless you like really over the top inappropriate laugh tracks and things that are terrible.

See also series 7 and 8 of RED DWARF UK.

It's interesting to me how people keep trying to revive Dark Shadows: there was a 1991 revival that ran for a few episodes, the failed pilot in this piece, and now Wikipedia is saying a movie is being considered. Having watched a few hundred episodes of the original I think the people who keep licensing it are missing that the appeal has little to do with the characters and the plot, and more to do with the way the cast and writers dealt with spinning out a gothic horror story in the confines of a daily soap. You can recreate that in a weekly drama or a film.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 4:39 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


can't
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 4:39 AM on December 14, 2010


do not watch RED DWARF USA unless you like really over the top inappropriate laugh tracks and things that are terrible

Too late - I watched the first couple of minutes and gave up from the pain. It was going so very wrong from the start, with the change of theme tune from the original wonderfully overblown orchestral number to a bland synth arrangement, and then to have Daphne from Frasier gently leading the audience by the hand, going "I'm going to make a joke now. Ready? Here comes the joke - JOKE! There, that was a joke!" was just too much. How they managed to convince Robert Llewellyn to be Kryten in such a trainwreck is beyond me.

(Although, let's be fair, the original Red Dwarf took a while to get going and did rather fizzle in later series...)
posted by ZsigE at 5:01 AM on December 14, 2010


I'm glad the American remake of Ultraviolet got dumped. The British version was just fine, thank you. Why does Hollywood insist on trying to re-make good shows, already in English, instead of just buying the rights and broadcasting them here? I'm guessing it's because the originals have longer runtimes, and so they won't be able to cram 20 minutes of commercials around a 1 hour show.
posted by fings at 5:28 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


so HV&J was an actual pilot, pitched to be made? I've seen it before, and always assumed it was a pisstake on the genre, made as a joke... I mean, it's funny, but what do you do with that for a full season? or 2?
posted by russm at 5:28 AM on December 14, 2010


I just realized that Jack Black's guest appearance on Yo Gabba Gabba could be a callback to Heat Vision and Jack. Ok, it's a stretch, but he's riding a talking motorcycle, so there's that.
posted by lyam at 5:28 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


(I mean, apart from more of the same)

also, I would totally have watched the Time Tunnel remake...

posted by russm at 5:31 AM on December 14, 2010


More like a really weak-minded group of FOX suits who took a pass on a really fun premise and well-executed pilot. HV&J had the same parodic relationship to Knight Rider (and other high-concept 70s/80s TV adventure shows) as the Venture Bros. has to Jonny Quest and Marvel Comics. You can easily view the pilot online, so don't take my word for it. Here's the opening sequence.

Oh man, that looks awesome. Totally reminds me of Darkplace (intro, first episode*).
*UK only maybe? :(

Together they run for their lives, blocked at every turn... by adventure!

Brilliant.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:35 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I remember loving the pilot for Global Frequency! Man, I wish that'd gotten picked up.

Also, is there somewhere I could find the pilot for Area 57? It sounds great!
posted by Greg Nog at 5:35 AM on December 14, 2010


"The Tomorrow Show With Tom Snyder Dressed As A Steam Engine" and "The West Wing In A Universe Where Everyone Is A Banana Bike."

God help me, I would watch those. And hate myself every minute for doing so (and probably loving it)....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:48 AM on December 14, 2010


Why does Hollywood insist on trying to re-make good shows, already in English, instead of just buying the rights and broadcasting them here?

They think foreign things frighten us.

OTOH, some of those shows end up being good, at least by the standards of their genre. Sanford and Son, Three's Company, All in the Family...

And there are worse options than being remade for the US. Just ask Gatchaman or Genesis Climber Mospeada.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:51 AM on December 14, 2010


I'm trying to figure out which ones are the "awesome" ones, because they all sound terrible.
posted by Legomancer at 6:19 AM on December 14, 2010


Global Frequency (the comic) is fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. And it would have made for a great TV show, since its very structure (one super-specialized agent goes against one super-specialized threat every episode) lends itself to very very interesting scenarios. Plus, government conspiracies and high tech beepers!

Alas.
posted by lydhre at 6:31 AM on December 14, 2010


Also British shows tend to have fewer episodes than US network shows, which means that they don't fit into the US marketplace all that well. US seasons tend to run 26 episodes, produced in 13 episode halves. That's why so many US shows that get greenlit and then fail have 12 or 13 episodes made. They produce the first half of a season and then decide based on ratings whether to pick up the other half. The British pattern is to make a short first series of four to six episodes and then decide then decide based on ratings whether to make another series, which is sometimes a couple of episodes longer.

I've been watching Misfits lately, which is just coming to the end of its second series. At six episodes per series, we're up to twelve episodes, which, all together, is a half-season by US standards. Being Human, which is getting a US version, had six episodes in its first series and eight in its second, again making up about half of a US season. The British production of Sherlock Holmes came in as three two-hour episodes, which would be a mini-series by US standards, but fits the six-hour pattern of a first series on British TV.
posted by Karmakaze at 6:31 AM on December 14, 2010


Coincidentally, Fearless was a book series written by YA legend of Sweet Valley fame Francine Pascal. With a built-in fanbase in the target demo, I'm shocked that WB didn't go for it--they put on shows with far worse potential for years and years.
posted by litnerd at 6:37 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why does Hollywood insist on trying to re-make good shows, already in English, instead of just buying the rights and broadcasting them here?

Well, yinz all talk funny for the first thing. And we don't get 2/3 of the cultural references. I love Top Gear but I don't get a lot of the jokes and don't know who most of the celebrities are. On the other hand, it's 100x better than the American remake.
posted by octothorpe at 6:53 AM on December 14, 2010


Who the hell thought: "Justice League? Let me get David Ogden Stiers on the phone tout suite!"
posted by bibliowench at 7:07 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


After watching the Global Frequency video not long after it was leaked, I picked up the first volume of the comic and found that the scrapped TV pilot was better than the thing it was based on. Alas.

What I love about the internet is that you're so easily able to find statements that explore the furthest extremes of the 'wrong' spectrum.

The biggest issue with translating between the (phenomenal) comic and the (middling) tv pilot was that in the comic, there's not really any continuity of protagonists - the only really recurring characters are the ones that operate behind the scenes, all the action is played out by a new face each week. This is a real damper on the audience draw of a recurring cast. Changing that to a single set of recurring active agents is a bit antithetical to the ENTIRE PREMISE of the comic, especially when the pair is a douchetacularly clichéd 'nebbishy genius and street-smart schlub'.
posted by FatherDagon at 7:24 AM on December 14, 2010


Who could not love Electra Woman as a disillusioned, bitter, sexually promiscuous alcoholic? We need the whole gang there. Dr. Shrinker owns the apartment complex where she lives. The Bugaloos live next door. Frank and Wildboy are in a relationship (Wildboy is still feeling remorse that he sold Bigfoot to a zoo some years ago).

I also think that Isis and Captain Marvel should make an appearance, but they appear to be part of a completely different series (a concept too subtle for my seven year old mind). Still, they should. Captain Marvel is Isis' ex-husband and he always walks around in costume because that's just how he rolls.

This would be so awesome!
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 7:37 AM on December 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


The list could have used some more fleshing out. For instance, the Eastwick entry - a tiny paragraph with a one-sentence plot summary and the fact that the story did in fact eventually get picked up. So is it awesome or awful? Why is it even on the list?

SyFy does love its lists of failed SF pilots. When I wrote the exact same damn story for their print magazine in 2004, my blurb on Eastwick described it as focusing on the sons each women from the film had. Now it's 15 years later and they're all high school soap opera hunky sons of the devil. It was basically a male version of Charmed.

Okay not exactly the same article. Mine was the top ten instead of 13 lost pilots. Sort of like razor blades, they have to add more to the lists now to seem cutting edge. Mine lacked Global Frequency, Area 57, and the Dark Shadows remake (because they hadn't been made yet) Fearless, and Red Dwarf. It did, however, have The Norliss Tapes, and Hollyweird, which have since been cut from the list, I guess. And it offered more detail about the shows in question because we were in print, and so couldn't just link to YouTube versions.
posted by Naberius at 7:47 AM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Captain Marvel is Isis' ex-husband and he always walks around in costume because

...otherwise Isis goes to jail when everyone finds out he's actually 12 in his nonsuper identity, in a Very Special Episode.
posted by mephron at 7:52 AM on December 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


poor kryton
posted by doobiedoo at 7:58 AM on December 14, 2010


so HV&J was an actual pilot, pitched to be made? I've seen it before, and always assumed it was a pisstake on the genre, made as a joke... I mean, it's funny, but what do you do with that for a full season? or 2?

Yes, it was really a pilot. None of these folks were well-heeled enough in 1999 to finance a pilot on their own.

In my opinion, you could do about anything with it. They already created a fiction universe that's a cross between Knight Rider, The Six Million Dollar Man, and whatever universe aliens that dehydrate prostitutes Joker-style come from. Jack is fighting a werewolf in the credits. And it's bad-on-purpose. I certainly won't say it would have written itself, but the fact that they got the tone so right in the pilot makes me think they could have chosen infinitely stupider premises and it still would have been funny. I mean, one of the best episodes of Knight Rider ever was the first one where KITT's evil twin showed up.

They keep talking about making more of these one way or another, but if they do, I'll be sad because Ron Silver can't be there.
posted by heatvision at 8:15 AM on December 14, 2010


the fact that they got the tone so right in the pilot makes me think they could have chosen infinitely stupider premises and it still would have been funny.

I completely agree. The beautiful thing about an opening volley that's as over-the-top-wacky as Heat Vision and Jack's pilot is that you never really run the danger of jumping the shark; every episode instead becomes, "Now: how we can jump an even CRAZIER shark?"
posted by Greg Nog at 8:24 AM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


They did remake Dark Shadows in 1991 (thank god the WB wasnt around then). Lasted one season as I recall, and while not exactly "good", they got the camp factor right and had some fun with it. Character actor Jim Fyfe was notable as the "Renfield"-like lackey of Barnabas Collins.
posted by elendil71 at 8:38 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Which one did Mia Wallace star in?
posted by Gelatin at 9:21 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Having watched the entire run of the 91 remake of Dark Shadows, I can tell you that it actually holds up much better than I expected it to. I got sucked in when my SO was embarking on a marathon viewing last winter AND I COULDN'T WALK AWAY. Echoing Elendil71's take, it had just the right amount of camp while still engaging you in the storyline. It was very much Dynasty-with-vampires, but in a good way. Ben Cross makes a pretty good Barnabas Collins, and of course, Jim Fyfe just owns every scene he's in.

Also, it features an even more impossibly young than usual Joseph Gordon Levitt (I swear to god, I think he was getting callbacks while still in the womb) as the de riguer "kid who talks to ghosts" character, so it has that going for it, too.
posted by KingEdRa at 9:49 AM on December 14, 2010


I mean, one of the best episodes of Knight Rider ever...

Not a phrase I ever thought I'd ever hear, to be honest. Isn't that like being the smartest Kardashian sister?
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:03 AM on December 14, 2010


I am not the VP of Publicity for the Sci Fi Network.
posted by Caviar at 10:10 AM on December 14, 2010


Totally reminds me of Darkplace

Darkplace was a great show. They showed it in the States on Cartoon Network (for some reason).

Amazing Screw On Head as another good unproduced SciFi pilot.
posted by chrisulonic at 10:11 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's a firm rule of mine that no show with a talking motor vehicle can't be improved by less talking motor vehicle. I mean, really.

That's why I always rooted for The Chopper Bunch to finally catch up with that damn Wheelie and give him what he had coming.
posted by InfidelZombie at 10:14 AM on December 14, 2010


I spent some time in LA in the 60s and attended a few test screenings of series pilots at CBS. About the only thing I could say about the experience was that every time I thought I'd seen the lamest, most dismal piece of detritus producible by a studio, there was always something worse just around the corner.

And, regarding "less talking motor vehicle," let's have a moment of silence for "My Mother The Car." Because yes, silence is preferable.
posted by kinnakeet at 10:40 AM on December 14, 2010


Dammit, I was almost finished my own post on this. I even took the time to write up each show separately with links to the videos. Hrmph.
posted by scalefree at 12:18 PM on December 14, 2010


I would fight ten secret government cyborg abominations by myself to get that show picked up by a network.

Your wish is granted. Well, maybe.
posted by scalefree at 12:22 PM on December 14, 2010


I'm trying to figure out which ones are the "awesome" ones, because they all sound terrible.

The original British Ultraviolet series was short-lived but brilliant. No idea how they cocked it up though.
posted by scalefree at 12:26 PM on December 14, 2010


David Ogden Stiers in green makeup as the Martian Manhunter

I love the Justice League and I couldn't stand that. For TV budgets, the only way to do the Manhunter is animation. Otherwise it'll by definition be 70s-Doctor-Who cheesy, which just doesn't cut it unless you're Tom Baker.
posted by immlass at 12:29 PM on December 14, 2010


I don't know about that. I watched that bloody Firefly series based on what I thought was a pretty reliable opinion (I think I even read it here, though now I can't remember who or what convinced me) but it was just another cheesy TV western series. (But in space! So it's special! Space cheese!)

Don't be angry. It's okay to be wrong.
posted by Sebmojo at 12:51 PM on December 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


cthuljew : ...I watched the Global Frequency video. I would watch the shit out of that show...

I have so much love for that pilot, I still use the ringtone on my phone. Just for that weird once in a blue moon moment when someone else recognizes it. I really suspect the episode got leaked by someone who was just infuriated by the blind stupidity of whoever looked at it and said "No, people wouldn't be interested in this" because the groundswell of support for it when it started getting noticed was pretty significant. At the very least, I hope whoever closed production on it was removed from any future decision making situations.

HEAT VISION AND JACK (1999)

Yes. "...if fate makes you a motorcycle, you become a motorcycle."

*thinks about this*

Yes.

RED DWARF USA (1992)

No. And I'll cut anyone who says those words together again. Cut. Like with a knife.
posted by quin at 1:13 PM on December 14, 2010


[Heat Vision & Jack] definitely had potential, but was maybe too pricey considering the people involved?

Not necessarily. The pilot was made about a year before the one-two punch of High Fidelity and Tenacious D made Jack Black into a household name. Similarly, Owen Wilson and Ron Silver's participation could've been limited to voiceovers and wraparound bits that could be done all in one go over a week's time. When you factor in the bargain-basement VFX, it might've been cheaper than a lot of other FOX pilots at the time.
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:40 PM on December 14, 2010


Amazing Screw On Head as another good unproduced SciFi pilot.

If I had my way, Mike Mignola would do a regularly-published Amazing Screw-On Head comic instead of all the Hellboy spinoffs.
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:45 PM on December 14, 2010


"It's interesting to me how people keep trying to revive Dark Shadows"

Big Finish audio for example:

http://www.bigfinish.com/dark-shadows

Which are interesting because they feature the original actors and pull together characters from different versions of the show including I believe that pilot.
posted by feelinglistless at 2:07 PM on December 14, 2010


In my opinion, you could do about anything with it.

posted by heatvision


I'm half tempted to pay $5 for a "Jack" sockpuppet, just to make it weird.
posted by Amanojaku at 2:07 PM on December 14, 2010


Not a phrase I ever thought I'd ever hear, to be honest. Isn't that like being the smartest Kardashian sister?

Well, some things are great just because they're so awful. Have you seen Battlefield Earth? Troll 2? The Room? Gymkata? All of them, funnier than 95% of comedies that come out nowadays. And they're not enjoyable only because they're ineptly made. I admire the bravery of some terrible movies because it took courage to go out on a limb and to keep going after the limb ended. If you commit to watching something like that, you're going to see things you've never seen anywhere else.

80's TV was great for that, what with all the high-concept, low-budget programming--Knight Rider in particular, because it featured a high-strung and pretentious talking car who occasionally ejected David Hasselhoff onto the roofs of nearby buildings, so he could break in like a cat burglar and evade armed guards in his skinny jeans and cowboy boots. Tell me that's not funny.

When it comes to HV&J though, I think it's telling that Stiller is a huge Starsky & Hutch fan. That show started out normal, with a dead serious action-packed (by 70's standards) movie-length first episode, but in no time... Bad guys hooked Hutch on heroin and Starsky had to nurse him back to health! Starsky got abducted by a cult! Hutch fell in love with a prostitute and had no idea! A vampire terrorized the city! They went to a tropical island and sang and danced in blackface! Hutch got the plague! That show was all over the place, and entertainingly afflicted with bad ideas more often than not.
posted by heatvision at 2:52 PM on December 14, 2010


Wow, I remember watching a few episodes when it aired but I had no idea Starsky & Hutch had so much weirdness in it. Definitely gonna have to check that out.
posted by scalefree at 7:48 PM on December 14, 2010


Have you seen Battlefield Earth?
Just awful.

Troll 2?
Also plain old terrible.

The Room?
Again, unmitigated garbage.

Gymkata?
An unrecognized masterpiece that will someday take it's place on the shelf next to Gone with the Wind in any discriminating movie lover's library.*


* Full disclosure: former skinny teenage gymnast
posted by JaredSeth at 5:53 AM on December 15, 2010


« Older What Should Design Researchers Research? Report fr...  |  A leaked document shows the EP... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments